The other night I broke bread with Christians. I had dinner at a friend’s house along with four other guests who were Evangelical Christian Zionists. It was Erev Shabbat and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had in a long time. Two of them were Pastors in a Church in Michigan. Each of them were overflowing with warmth and pure happiness in sharing the Sabbath meal experience with a Jewish family in the heartland of Israel – in Efrat, a city of approximately 10,000 Jews located in the Judean hills.
For them, the entire conflict in the Middle East was a no-brainer. Their truth was straight from the Bible. They recognize that Israel, in its entirety, is the Jewish nation’s God given land. And when I asked what motivates them to be so vocal with their pro-Israel views, they simply stated, “Those who curse Israel will be cursed and those who bless Israel will be blessed.” Again, to them, a no-brainer.
The subject of the Messiah/Moshiach did come up for a moment, although, fleetingly. It was understood that we would all eventually find out in good time whether it would be the first coming or the second coming. And, indeed, that was irrelevant to the here and now. What was important was the harmony, the mutual respect, the tolerance, the love of Israel, and the shared understanding of the words of the Torah/Bible, not only in terms of the Land of Israel, but also with regard to everything related to “Love Thy Neighbor….”
By the end of the evening there were hugs to go all around, and as a parting sentiment, one guest, a Pastor, blessed us all in what was a very emotional moment.
Now, anyone who knows me knows well that I’m not given to naiveté. I’m a cynic by nature and there are few I genuinely trust on this earth. Nevertheless, I did not want to believe that this particular group of Christians that I met and shared a meal with, were here on a mission to proselytize and had traveled to Israel with ulterior motives.
They wanted to visit the Holy Land, plain and simple. They wanted to see their religious sites and visit the borders in order to understand the clear and present dangers that Israel faces. They had also raised many funds for an organization called Operation Lifeshield in order to provide shelters to protect our people from Arab rockets. They were brimming with love of the land and with appreciation of the Jewish people and what we as a nation endure in order to keep Israel secure. They thirsted for knowledge, raised questions to my son who was home for Shabbat from the army, and listened attentively to what he had to say about life on the front line.
Their intentions in visiting Israel were pure, their hearts filled with compassion. All this was true.
BUT, bottom line, their religion, the one they cling passionately to, is indeed a missionary religion.
And so, as I floated home I couldn’t help but feel that those people made me want to sit around a Christmas tree with them and drink eggnog.
And then it hit me – why many of our youth go “off the derech,” off the religious path, some even embracing other religions, and yes, some even joining the ranks of “Jews for Jesus.”
Perhaps we can learn something from our Christian Evangelical Zionist friends. Let ALL our religious institutions embrace our children with warmth and love, exhibiting the compassion that Judaism does indeed possess, and the rest, in terms of adhering to the laws of religious practice will naturally follow out of a sense of a love of our faith, a genuine love of God, and not out of a fear of non-conformity.
I find it disheartening when I hear about a particular school in Jerusalem that won’t register a child because the mother doesn’t cover her hair, for instance. Had I been that child, I would have been majorly turned off. And that is precisely what we need to avoid unless we don’t mind feeding our youth as fodder to the missionaries. It is likewise not inspirational, when an inordinate amount of lecture time in school dwells on the length of one’s skirt – as if that is the barometer of spirituality.
Let’s get our act together on a universal level and become more welcoming and inviting. Much thought needs to be given to how many Jews we can bring into the fold as opposed to instilling an unfeasible fear to non-conformity and enforcing exclusionary measures that only serve to alienate many among us.
For example, I recently obtained my Get, but not before the Rabbanut of Jerusalem questioned the validity of my Ketubah since the presiding Rabbi did not “recognize” the name of my Rabbi back in the States. In a flash, the spiritual sanctity of my entire married life was arbitrarily deemed null and void, and I was told that should I wish to remarry in Israel, I would need to prove that I was Jewish.
It took every ounce of restraint for me not to punch the guy out. “How dare you!” I thought in my head, in a distinct Polish accent. “Nu! My great grendfader – a Rosh Yeshiveh in his Litvishe shtetle vould run circles around you if he vuz alife today!” I imagined having to hold back my two Holocaust survivor parents, had they been present, from attacking him head on. Actually, my father would have emitted an Auschwitz-inspired cynical laugh and my mother would have creamed him. Even the Jew-hating gangs on the streets back in the ol’ hood stepped aside when she came walking down the block.
Evidently, I must have inherited a touch of that. The presiding Rabbi saw the “Jewish” fire in my eyes and the Get process went through without the stipulation that I would need to prove my Jewishness should I ever wish to remarry.
But what about others who didn’t muster the threatening look?
And so, after that warm and fuzzy feeling of breaking bread with my new found Christian friends, I couldn’t help but feel that had I not felt so strongly about my own religion, had I not had a deeply ingrained faith in God, I may have very likely been enticed into the warm and loving embrace of Christian missionaries.
It is long overdue to reassess our approach and concentrate on achdut (unity) and kiruv (bringing fellow Jews closer) rather than emphasizing, prioritizing and valuing conformity above all else and the alienation it promotes.